Noncommunicable diseases, mental health and COVID-19

People with NCDs such as cardiovascular disease (e.g. hypertension, heart disease and stroke), chronic respiratory disease, diabetes and cancer, appear to be more vulnerable to becoming severely ill with the COVID-19. 

Smokers are likely to be more vulnerable to COVID-19. Smokers may also already have lung disease or reduced lung capacity which would greatly increase risk of serious illness.

A healthy lifestyle will make all bodily functions work better, including immunity. Eating healthy diets, keeping physically active, quitting smoking, limiting or avoiding alcohol intake, and getting enough sleep are key components of a healthy lifestyle.

Fear, worry, and stress are normal responses to perceived or real threats, and at times when we are faced with uncertainty or the unknown. It is normal and understandable that people are experiencing stress in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the pandemic, people with NCDs and mental health conditions may experience difficulties in accessing the health care, including life-saving treatment.

For more information see WHO Information note on COVID-19 and NCDs.

What the Task Force is doing during COVID-19

Harnessing the collective energies of the UN and multilateral system

The Task Force comes together once a week to allow its members to prioritize action to support Member States respond to NCDs and the challenges of mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

A summary of activities being undertaken by Task Force members is available here.

Relevant information on COVID-19 and NCDs from across WHO is available here.

In addition, the Task Force Secretariat represents members of the Task Force on each of the 8 workstreams of the WHO COVID-19/NCDs Working Group in order to maximize synergies between WHO and the wider UN system. 

Multi-partner trust fund to catalyze country action for NCD and mental health

To respond to ECOSOC and World Health Assembly resolutions and the recommendation of the WHO Independent High-level Commission on NCDs, WHO is establishing a multi-partner trust fund. The Fund will support governments to better coordinate and integrate NCDs and mental health responses into their health and development strategies, to develop and implement optimized fiscal, legislative and regulatory policies, and to ensure access to life saving healthcare for NCDs and mental health conditions. In the first instance, the Trust Fund will support countries respond to NCDs as part of their COVID-19 response and recovery.

The Steering Group will be chaired by the WHO Deputy Director General, with membership across Task Force members and development partners. The Secretariat of the Task Force will serve as the Secretariat of the Trust Fund. The Multi-Partner Trust Fund Office will be the management agent.

Joint programme and theme groups

The Task Force’s joint programmes and thematic working groups (TWG) are ensuring that their work is providing relevant, timely and effective support to Member States during COVID-19. Every effort is being made to maintain current work through remote working.

NCD2030: NCD and mental health investment cases continue to be undertaken remotely. Where possible, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic will be reflected in the investment cases.

SAFER: The joint programme is compiling a repository of peer reviewed articles around the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on alcohol consumption.

Tobacco control: The workstream ‘Tobacco prevention among youth’ recognizes children and adolescent increased risk of second-hand smoke during the lockdown and is developing advocacy material around smoke free homes.

Nutrition: Members of the TWG are compiling a list of UN resources highlighting the linkages between COVID-19 and nutrition and developing relevant advocacy material on maintaining a healthy diet during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mental Health: The TWG is conducting a survey to map agencies’ activities around mental health and COVID-19, in order to streamline information sharing and dissemination.

NCDs and the environment: The main focus of the TWG is around the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on air pollution, waste management (especially hospital waste), and climate change.

Selected products from Task Force members

UNICEF, WHO and IFRC have issued the following guidance, Community-based health care, including outreach and campaigns, in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. The guidance included and overview and specific considerations for mental health and NCDs.